I’ve read a number of Smith’s books and enjoyed most of them. I especially enjoyed Hotel World, and How to Be Both but not too fond of The Accidental – although it was okay.
This one is funny and sad at the same time – it’s just lovable for the humanity of it. It’s also a bit scary for the reality.
by Ali Smith (Scotland)
2016 / 272 pages
read by Melody Grove / 5h 27m
Rating: 8.75/ contemp fiction
(both read and listened)
** first of a seasonal quartet **
The setting is presumably Scotland.
1. Daniel Gluck is old and trying to die. He imagines himself dead – dreams himself dead on the beach. He has some regrets. Kind of sad.
2. Elisabeth Demand is 32 years old, living on a pittance, She wants a passport. She has some bureaucratic trouble getting it. Buys a book to read – “Brave New World” – dystopian fiction. Rather funny – satire and she doesn’t get it. “Hope you don’t mind if I write in this box that you’re not quite right in the head.” Go get your photos at Snappy Snaps.
3. Elisabeth goes to see Daniel at the Care Providers – he talks about a story he’s dreamed up.
4. Daniel is small and needs more sleep – he’s very old and death is closer. She is not next of kin but she gives the contact numbers. Passport has expired. But Daniel is still there – still. The word “still” is discussed. – “Still, Daniel says/doesn’t say, ‘I do look stylish.” “Daniel lies there very still in the bed.”
5. Daniel goes in and out of his imagination and Elisabeth apparently goes with him. He’s a magician on the streets.
6. The assistant wakes Elisabeth up. They were both sleeping. He wakes up and says he was sleeping.
7. It’s 1993 and Elisabeth is 8 years old and has a school assignment to interview a neighbor. Her mother is a seriously unreliable person – suggests cheating. But this is how Elisabeth meets Daniel but because she is so “appalled”
“She was appalled from head to foot. It was like the notion of appalled had opened its mouth and swallowed her whole, exactly like an old-age rubberized skin would.”
But they become friends over a discussion of names.
8. The vote – (Brexit – Feb. 2016) – Elizabeth, now an art historian and she and her mother go for a walk to the coast but it’s blocked off by chainlink fence. Mom is tired of the anger and the news and the selfishness and the violence and liars and sanctifying liars.
9. “All across the country …” after Brexit.
10. Nice, France, ca September 2015 . – Fascism film about Gestapo creates upset. In 1943 Hannah Gluck, age 22 and going by a different name, is picked up by a truck. But they let her off after a stop and she said so.
11. Elisabeth age 11 – 1995 – October – Daniel comes over when Elizabeth’s mother leaves. They talk about reading and being absent – “the father who dies isn’t actually in it but he’s the reason …” They talk about words as organisms and the nature of truth/lying and children. Daniel plays word games with her. Elisabeth is very bright and her mother is pulling crap.
He draws a mental picture for her to envision – a collage.
The two bond over the idea of art – 1960s. “Time flies” and Daniel throws his watch into the river.
Wimbledon Bardot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_Boty
12. Elisabeth is 13 – her mother is mad at her for hanging out with an 85-year old gay man. How is normal defined. ” Sine we all live in relativity and mine at the moment is not and I suspect never will be the same as yours.”
They talk about books, songs, poets, Keats, an opiate. He met Bob Dylan. Plath. Pictures which can’t be seen. Mom misinterprets everything, scared for her daughter. Some are rather much for a child – even of 13.
13. The seasons change from June to September –
14. Daniel opens his eyes but can’t open them – he’s stuck inside something like a Scots pine. He can see a long ways but he’s paralyzed – between a dream and death? – He remembers Christine Keeler (I remember her) – in his fantasy she gets into armor – more memory/fantasy about women and … it drifts. A woman lies to the court and then tells the truth but too bad – and Daniel makes up songs. Daniel drifts from dream to dream – James Joyce “The Dead.” And it goes on.
Chapter 15. Elisabeth goes to the doctor but can’t register because of her ID problem (passport). This is #3 – She goes to the post office to get her passport. Another go-round about her photo and her face. Advised to go to Snappy Snaps again. Elisabeth tells them to send the paperwork in. New book and off to see Daniel.
Chapter 16 – Daniel is sleeping – apparently Elisabeth’s ID has been stolen by someone named Anna Pavlova. The power of the lie – to her mother –
I’ll tell you what will happen, Daniel said. This. You and I will know I’ve lied, but your mother won’t. You and I will know something that your mother doesn’t. That will make us feel different towards not just your mother, but each other. A wedge will come between us all. You will stop trusting me, and quite right, because I’d be a liar. We’ll all be lessened by the lie. So. Do you still choose the ballet? Or will I tell the sorrier truth?
The power of the lie, Daniel said. Always seductive to the powerless. But how is my being a retired dancer going to help in any real way with your feelings of powerlessness?
Chapter 17 – “It was a Tuesday, in March in 1998.” Elisabeth is 13. She and Daniel play a literary game of making up a story – she says there is such a thing as a real world – he says there isn’t. (I have problems with this and so should Smith in light of Brexit – I mean – it means that Brexit and Donald Trump are not real – just made up stories – lol – and fake news is as good as real. – North Korea is not a threat. – All make believe – there was no Holocaust – (and there are folks who say this) – all made up by the powers that be.)
Chapter 18 – Daniel’s story. is very peculiar and ends up with everyone dying and turning into trees. – Daniel says “while we’re here” and Elisabeth wonders and Daniel doesn’t know.
Chapter 19 – Elisabeth’s mother goes on TV. Like an angel sent. She has to shop for something in an antique store which will bring money to an auction. Spanish people are told to go home. (racism of Brexit) –
And the book goes on …